The current government in Lebanon has become so weakened that it is not even able to round up the city trash in its own capital. This is what demonstrators are saying these days in Beirut.
Rifts between two main political parties – March 14th & March 8th
The differences between the March 14th party led by former prime minister Sa’ad Hariri and the group known as March 8th led by Hezbollah and supporters of Michel Aoun (elements loyal to Iran) have for over a year left Lebanon without a president.
To this day 26 parliamentary sessions have been held to elect a president, yet each time the parliament falls short of the necessary quorum due to the absence of Hezbollah MPs and their allies. Therefore, the election of an individual from Lebanon’s community for the presidency has been at an impasse. The Lebanese Hezbollah are insisting on Michel Aoun, while their opponents have other candidates in mind.
Why the trash crisis?
The trash crisis resulted when a contract between a private company by the name of Suklin ended with the Lebanese government on July 17th, and major difference rose between the March 14th and March 8th political parties on extending this contract and the end price. The government of Prime Minister Tammam Salam has said Lebanon’s current problem is not just about city trash, but over political trash!
However, in opposition to the Prime Minister’s attempts, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berry – also head of the Amal movement allied to Hezbollah and Iran – issued a statement saying, “Due to the high price rate of the tender presented by trash companies imposing a heavy cost on the country’s budget, the government must reevaluate signing a new contract with these companies.” This statement was issued merely a few hours prior to a press conference held by Lebanese Environment Minister Mohamed Mashnuq.
This government official sought to tell demonstrators that a contract to round up the city trash will be signed soon. However, the statement issued by Nabih Berry – reflecting the viewpoint of the March 8th group – disappointed everyone. Moreover, this statement was distributed one day prior to a session when the government led by the Prime Minister was scheduled to discuss how to resolve the trash crisis. This was the same session in which Prime Minister Tammim Salam threatened to step down if the meeting bore no results.
“You Stink” movement
The demonstrations that began last Saturday in a number of downtown Beirut squares have been dubbed as the “You Stink” movement. This current, first gathering force due to the trash pileups across the capital and especially the coastal roads, is now expressing political demands and calling for a solution to resolve the current political disputes. This movement is also seeking an end to all confrontations between the March 14th and March 8th factions.
In the middle of all this, media outlets belonging to these two groups are supporting this movement on the streets and launching major criticism against the government. The al-Nahar daily, close to Sa’ad Hariri, lashed out at the government’s security measures against the demonstrators and criticized the installation of cement T-walls separating the government’s Sarai palace and the Riyadh Sol’h square from the protesters. This daily wrote, “With the installation of cement walls, the nation has lost contact with the government!”
However, dailies supporting the March 8th group supposedly backed the demonstrators. Al Safir daily published a piece entitled, “Protesters reorganize, government goes into hiding” saying, “With security forces attacking the demonstrators and involving various violent groups amongst the protesters, the government is attempting to force the demonstration into a downfall.”
The “Al Akhbar” daily associated to the Lebanese Hezbollah posted an analysis saying, “The March 14th group must accept the presidency of Michel Aoun. Otherwise the status quo in the country will literally explode following the government session impasse.”
Violence against demonstrations
During the past two days protest gatherings have turned into scenes of clashes between demonstrators and security forces. At first the police resorted to using water cannons and tear gas against the demonstrators. However, they quickly began using extreme methods that raised strong criticism from the Human Rights Watch.
Various demonstrators resorted to violence in response, throwing rocks at the security forces and tearing apart the barbed wire placed between the police and protesters. Leaders of the “You Stink” movement are saying they do not seek violent measures and their uprising is a peaceful movement.
However, various elements from different political parties who have infiltrated into the files of the rallies are directing and encouraging protestors into violent measures. This includes settings stores and vehicles ablaze, and attacking the mausoleum of assassinated prime minister Rafiq Hariri. As a result, fingers are now pointed at supporters of the March 8th group.
The “al-Lewa” daily, close to the March 14th group, said in its analysis that violence in these demonstrations may be the initial stages for a responce from the Lebanese Hezbollah, similar to the events seen in May 7th, 2008. Back then armed Hezbollah members took control over the streets of Beirut in measures very similar to a coup d’état, encircling the homes of prominent March 14th leaders Sa’ad Hariri and Walid Jonbalat. Their actions were in protest to a law passed by the government aimed at dismantling a secret Hezbollah telephone network.
This meant that Hezbollah, adjacent to the country’s phone network, had established a secret network of its own, not allowing anyone outside of its ranks and files to use it. The government at the time in Lebanon considered this network a security threat for its citizens. However, Hezbollah took up arms against the Lebanese people to protect this secret network, launching a historic crisis that ended with a pact signed in Doha, Qatar. The al-Mustaqbel TV station associated to Sa’ad Hariri aired an analysis described the current situation in Lebanon as a “small May 7th.”
Everything may go out of control
Amongst this mayhem, 458 days have passed from the beginning of the Lebanon presidency crisis and the vacancy of this post. It doesn’t seem that this countdown will come to an end any time soon. However, what is certain is that Lebanon’s crises are escalating and a simple subject such as trash has led the country into an explosive state. During the past few days Hezbollah and al-Mustaqbel representatives have held meetings emphasizing on maintaining peace and security, and preventing the country from falling into the abyss of violent confrontations. However, with crises simmering across Lebanon and regional dilemmas boiling in Syria and Yemen, in which Hezbollah is very much involved in, the status quo may truly spiral out of control.
The solution to the problem in Lebanon, similar to Iraq, Syria and Yemen, is none other than evicting Iran and ending its meddling in this country. Following the nuclear agreement with the P5+1 many believed Iran would reevaluate its policy of meddling in the Middle East. However, the situation on the ground is completely lopsided and Tehran has launched even new measures aimed at cloaking its defeats suffered in the nuclear dossier and Yemen. These steps include the new status quo in Lebanon, creating chaos in this country under the pretext of trash pileups. Iran’s objective is disrupting order across the region and the Middle East to relieve itself of its numerous crises under the shadows of the problems engulfing the region. This includes the situation it has stirred in Syria, Iraq and Yemen as Tehran is attempting to expand its efforts into Bahrain, Kuwait and even Saudi Arabia. I emphasize once again that Iran’s meddling in other countries is far more dangerous than its drive to obtain nuclear weapons.